The Arctic Death Squeeze

Picture via Pixabay

The brisk weather we’ve been experiencing lately here in Interior Alaska has been a wonderful learning experience.  Hopefully it has taught my friends and neighbors a thing or two–especially my neighbor, Bing Snudlick. 

People get complacent when the weather is too warm.  However, at sixty below a guy has a chance to re-evaluate his priorities.  He is given a rare opportunity to set aside the jaded, superficial, contrived computer-generated mirage of 21st century civilization, and return to a world of primitive basics where the strong thrive on raw instinct and survival skills, while the weak fall apart and blubber like a baby girl.  Yes indeed.  A little bit of classic Alaskan weather really cuts a huge swath between the men and the boys…between the sourdoughs and the cheechakos…between legendary mountain men, and the pitiful little Admiral Peary wannabes who fancy themselves outdoorsmen and nature lovers, like my neighbor, Bing.

Bing showed his true nature early on by his laughable propensity to call this recent experience a “cold snap”.  How ridiculously naive!  Why, anyone with a little bit of common sense could tell you this was no snap.  A snap is what you do with your fingers in a flippant micro-moment.  A snap is what a dry twig does the instant you step on it.  A snap is the amount of time it takes for a mouse to die in a spring-loaded mousetrap.  Oh, no, my friends!  This was no snap.  Nearly three interminable weeks of temperatures lower than thirty degrees below zero is no cold snap.  This was what should properly be categorized as an arctic death squeeze!

I tried to explain this to Bing, but he didn’t pay any attention.  That was partly due to the fact that he was wearing a monstrosity of a fur hat, like some kind of Eskimo, with the flaps cinched down over his ears, so he couldn’t hear me very well.  I, on the other hand, being a seasoned Alaskan sourdough, am immune to the worst that nature can dish out.  I’m too tough to be seen in public wearing such trappings.  Somebody like Bing just doesn’t seem to comprehend the simple reality that silly clothes like fur or Bunny boots or Carhartts or big huge puffy Michelin Man parkas or mittens the size of poodles might as well be a neon billboard flashing, “Look at me!  I’m a wimp and a redneck dork!  I can’t take the cold.”

In contrast, my winter gear consists entirely of a fleece hoodie and a pair of cool Nike sneakers.  I don’t use gloves, either.  They take too much time to put on, and they feel weird.  I’m careful to wear baggy sweatpants too.  That way I can use the small of my back and the top of my buttocks to vent any excess body heat.  If Bing could have just gritted his teeth and toughed it out for a few seconds, he would have realized that his ridiculous wardrobe is completely unnecessary, regardless of the temperature. 

Sure, I get a bit chilled at first, but I’ve found that if I just ignore the slightly unsettling sensation of having the plasma membranes of my epidermal squamous cells split open like water balloons dipped in liquid nitrogen, why, after a couple of minutes my toes and fingers and ears and rear end don’t feel a thing.  In fact, within the past month, several of my body parts referenced in the previous sentence became obsolete.  They evidently lost interest in remaining warm altogether, turned black and fell off in the snow.  Now I have much less surface area to be affected by the cold.  I hypothesize that my body is adapting to its environment, as I evolve into a more advanced species of arctic humanoid.  It’s a liberating feeling, really!  The only drawback is that I now find it a bit more difficult to sit down.

The second reason why Bing wouldn’t listen to my well reasoned and eloquently presented argument was that in retrospect I realize I must have slipped into the Chistochina Chitter.  Any sourdough is fluent in Chistochina Chitter.  However, for any of my readers who are not familiar with this uniquely Alaskan dialect, perhaps I should take a moment to elucidate.

Chistochina Chitter has its phylogenetic origins in a primal tongue that predates the entire Indo-European language family.  However, it was systematized and codified into the dialect as it is spoken today by pioneer philologist and linguist Stumpy McCracken in 1898 after falling through the ice into glacier-fed Spitwater Creek in his red longhandle underwear at 20 below while chasing a ptarmigan on a drunken dare.

Time and space do not permit me to cover the vast complexities and subtle nuances of the dialect in this treatise.  Suffice it to say that Chistochina Chitter is a characterized by a preponderance of sibilant consonants, vocalized by expelling the breath sharply through chattering teeth in an almost stuttering manner.  Vowels are slurred together into a single protracted diphthong.  The terse sentences are typically interspersed by a shallow coughing sound, particularly following an extra deep inspiration of subzero air.  Native speakers of Chistochina Chitter maintain stiff lips throughout the enunciation process and often permit icicles to accumulate in their moustaches to facilitate an even diffusion of the sound.

I catch myself effortlessly slipping into Chistochina Chitter when I am outside for extended periods on those invigorating days when the temperature is on the chillier end.  I find that the dialect lends itself to more efficient communication when one’s tongue is not cooperating due to the intoxicating stimulation induced by the natural euphoria of hypothermia.  With a little practice, anyone can master Chistochina Chitter.  I would strongly encourage anyone who is serious about becoming a sourdough to practice it on your next ice-fishing or snow machine trip.  Here are a few basic terms to get you started:

Uh-c-c-c-c-anfilma-[koff koff]-f-f-f-f-f-fingus”:  (I can’t feel my fingers.) 

A jocular slang term, which can have a variety of meanings ranging from, “I’ll just leave my stupid jacket unzipped.  I wasn’t really trying to get a hold of my zipper pull tab anyway!” to, “I can’t believe I just dropped my car keys in the snow!  I’ll never be able to find them with these stiff, talon-like alien appendages I notice protruding from the end of my sleeves.  Maybe if I just rake them through the snow, there will be enough heat left in them to melt the snow and moisten them a bit so that the keys will stick to them like a tongue to a flagpole.”

Um-g-g-g-g-gun-n-n-n-na-[koff]-k-k-k-k-kilmuz-[koff]-b-b-b-b-bin”:  (I’m going to kill my husband.) 

An affectionately kidding expression reserved for those moments after your car’s fan belt shatters and the heater hose bursts, requiring you to hike for help in high heels, miniskirt and fishnet stockings at 50 below.  This is usually accompanied by fond reminiscing of what life was like back in Las Vegas before your husband got the harebrained notion to sign a contract to work in Alaska so he could (whooo-hoo, big joke, don’t make me laugh) “get rich”.

M-m-m-m-m-moron-[koff-koff-hack-koff-wheeze]”:  (Moron!) 

A personal title conferred upon an individual who has earned it due to their incompetence.  It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to be able to make a product that actually function properly at 60 below, should it?  We weren’t born yesterday!  This title is most frequently applied to vehicle manufacturers, water and sewer line companies, furnace makers, residential home construction companies, insulation manufacturers and propane or fuel oil distributors. 

Do they actually expect us to believe their ridiculous explanation that molecular changes happen at severe cold temperatures, rendering equipment vulnerable to failure that normally would not be a problem? 

Pshaw!  What brazen garbage.  That’s almost as bad as the claim that many electronic sensors are not programmed for temperatures colder than 40 below, and below that will re-calibrate to 70 above, thus improperly regulating fuel mixtures, etc.

This title is also sometimes conferred on service people who demonstrate a refusal to instantly correct the product failure on demand.  Such service people often cover their incompetence with the flimsy excuse that they have 82 people ahead of you and they will get to you as soon as possible, but can’t make any promises.

k-k-k-kinya-g-g-g-give-[koff]-m-m-m-meahan”:  (Can you give me a hand?) 

A formal greeting that should be offered upon being introduced to the driver of any vehicle that stops to laugh at the sight of you standing beside your vehicle, which is buried in a snow bank in the ditch on a perfectly straight stretch of road.  This expression is interchangeable with “g-g-g-g-gotta-t-t-t-tow-st-st-st-strap-p-p-p?” or “k-k-k-kin-n-n-n-ahyuzher-[koff]-c-c-c-cell-[koff]-f-f-f-f-fone?”

Even when I’m not speaking Chistochina Chitter, however, Bing and I don’t seem to be communicating on the same wavelength.  We really don’t have much in common.  For instance, Bing burns wood.  I tried to explain to him that if he would use a propane fireplace and electric heat like I do, he wouldn’t have to get all bundled up and drag in firewood twice a day.  He ignored my suggestion, mumbling something about talking to him after my propane pressure failed and the power went off. 

How stupid is that?  If that unlikely situation ever occurred, I’d be too busy calling the service people to give him friendly advice.

Bing always breathes through his nose when he’s outside at severely cold temperatures.  He claims it warms the air a little more before it hits his lungs.  I tried not to snicker too obviously when he said that, but clearly the man is a couch potato.  No wonder he’s got a potbelly.  If he jogged a hundred yards every day like I do, he’d know that there are times you have to breathe through your mouth.  A person’s nostrils simply don’t have the capacity to provide enough oxygen to meet your body’s needs when you’re panting and gasping during a vigorous cardiovascular workout like that. 

You know what? I think that as soon as I recover from this severe case of pneumonia that I picked up somewhere, maybe I’ll swing over there and try to talk Bing into jogging with me.

Then again, maybe I won’t.  He’ll probably start to razz me about how he had to carry me into the house to warm up last week, after he found me in my back yard.  He likes to claim I was blubbering like a baby girl.  I tried to explain that my plumber’s crack area had just cramped up for some reason and I was utilizing some deep breathing exercises to relieve the spasms.  I might as well have been talking to one of those moronic sewer drain thawer company dudes.  Like I said, Bing and I don’t have much in common.

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